Paul Alexander: the man with the iron lung – NewsGram

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By Khushi Bisht

Paul Alexander, a polio survivor, spends virtually every day of his life in his iron lung. He can’t breathe on his own. Due to the polio, both his diaphragm and the muscles in his body were severely damaged. As a result, he ended up spending the rest of his life in the iron lung. Because Paul is paralyzed from neck to toe from polio, the iron lung helps him breathe by forcing his body to suck in air through negative pressure.


Paul contracted poliovirus at the age of six in 1952, during one of the deadliest epidemics in U.S. history. The thought of polio terrified everyone at the time. Parents were so terrified of the terrible unknown disease that they forbade their children to play with other young people. They were terrified that their child would catch the sniffles. The epidemic has forced theaters, schools, parks and even stores to close.

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However, only a few months after Paul’s disease, Jonas Salk (American virologist) found the polio vaccine. Paul survived the critical illness, but the polio virus left him paralyzed from neck to toe. And now he is one of the last polio survivors, with a paralysis so severe that he still uses a vestige of that terrible time.

He is entirely dependent on his iron lung and can only pull away from it for a few hours at a time with a lot of struggle. He confides everything he cannot do with his own mouth to his longtime caregiver. However, Paul’s iron lung didn’t stop him from enjoying life to the fullest. He has accomplished so much in his life that many able-bodied people could never do so in their entire lives. Although paralyzed, Paul is a well-known lawyer and author.

Iron lungs at Fort Sam Houston. Wikimedia Commons

Paul went to great lengths to graduate from high school. He was the first individual to graduate from Dallas High School without ever physically attending a class at the age of 21. Paul was refused admission to Southern Methodist University after graduating from high school because he was considered too disabled and did not have the polio vaccine. Finally, the university admitted him after 2 years of pleading on 2 conditions. First, he receives a vaccination, and second, any fraternity will be his responsibility.

Paul had aspired to be a lawyer since he was young. He attended law school, passed bar exams, and began his own practice. He practiced law in Dallas and Fort Worth for years, using a three-piece suit and a custom wheelchair to keep his paralyzed body upright while in court. Paul claims he was a fantastic lawyer and did everything in his power to improve himself and achieve his goals.

When asked what he does all day, Paul replied that he does exactly the same as everyone else. He wakes up, brushes his teeth, washes his face and eats breakfast. However, he needs a little help doing all of this. Sometimes he reads, paints or studies something. But he just despises watching TV.

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It didn’t stop there, however. Paul wrote his own life story, “Three Minutes for a Dog… My Life in an Iron Lung”, entirely with his mouth, using a pen on a stick. He never gave up and he says he never would. He wrote this book in the hopes of inspiring a million people. He claims that no matter where you are from, where you are from, or what issues you face, you can accomplish it all. All you have to do is jump in and put in the effort.

Paul’s life serves as an example to millions of people around the world. Her story illustrates why your background or disabilities don’t define your destiny, but your passion, dedication and hard work do.

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